May 2, 2012
The heritage protection and community development project at Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia continues to make great progress. After having completed the English language program, twelve individuals are being trained to become local tour guides at this late 12th century site. The trainees participate in the tour guide program for four hours a week. In the initial stage of the training, trainees were being taught basic guiding techniques, practical issues related to guiding visitors at a heritage site, and methods on relating their community to visitors. The training activities included theory, group activities, and on-site tour guide practice.
As the role of the tour guide is vital in communicating a coherent, narrative explanation of this historic monument, social communication skills will also be taught to guide trainees. Equipped with this skill and the information contained in the manual, trainees can regard themselves as authorities on the site of Banteay Chhmar and as a result can earn the respect of the international visitors in their charge.
The tour guides’ training manual is written based upon recent research of the material remains of the Banteay Chhmar temple, focusing on its architecture, inscription, iconography, and recent archaeological discoveries at the site. The manual provides a structured explanation of concepts relevant to a modern understanding of the temple. It also attempts to bridge the gap of eight centuries by understanding the purpose and function of the temple at specific historical moments, such as at the time the temple was founded, which is of great interest to many visitors.
Heritage protection activities are also an important part of the project. Workshops on heritage protection and education outreach are conducted to engage Banteay Chhmar community members of all ages in the understanding and promotion of involvement in their cultural heritage preservation. Heritage education is an integral part of this effort.
Since participating in the September 2011 workshop, organized by Heritage Watch in collaboration with Ministry of Culture, local teachers have taken an active role in promoting public education on the significance of preserving community heritage. This heritage awareness has been included in classroom activities through educational materials produced by Heritage Watch, including anti-looting posters and two storybooks entitled “If the Stones Could Speak” and “Wrath of the Phantom Army.” The books aim to encourage a lifelong respect for cultural heritage, raise awareness about the effects of looting, and explain what can be done to protect this heritage. These materials have been very helpful tools for teachers to capture the interest of students as they learn about the past.
The greatest outcome of these efforts is that teachers and students are gradually taking the lessons to heart. “This education outreach helps provide young people with one of the most effective windows to the past and the physical world of people who lived in a reality well beyond our time. Through heritage awareness, students become more interested and actively involved in understanding and protecting their surrounding heritage as it is being integrated into their studies at school,” said a teacher from a Banteay Chhmar primary school.